Photography is so exciting because the creative possibilities are endless. However, sometimes we can set mental boundaries for ourselves thinking we don’t live near any cool locations, the lighting in our house is too bad to shoot there, or plenty of other excuses as to why you can’t get good photos. There’s plenty of opportunities to make an unsightly location turn into an awesome background for your portraits. As you go out and experiment, try to look at locations in a different way. Instead of thinking about how you can’t shoot there, start imagining ways you can make it work. Seriously, you could get sick edgy shots in a 7 Eleven parking lot.
But if you’re running into the photographer’s equivalent of writer’s block, here are a few basic ideas to get those creative juices flowing.
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This is pretty basic, but it’s essentially a blank slate to make into whatever you want. If you’re a beginner photographer, a studio shoot is probably the best way to embark on your creative journey. You have control over your light source, you can choose your backdrop, and you can construct the vibe. Plus, there are so many different themes you can do with a studio shoot, or you could just keep it plain, fresh, and simple.
You’re probably going to need some props, a light source (I recommend this cheaper softbox for beginners), a backdrop (or a few), your camera and tripod, and of course, a model. Depending on how many styles you want, you might want your model to bring a few outfit changes as well.
I don’t have a backdrop or colored paper, so I always just use a blank wall or put a sheet up (Livin’ that low budget life, baby!). That’s perfectly fine! Those options work if you don’t have supplies or the budget to buy a professional backdrop. Working with what you got can challenge you and help you grow. Once you get the hang of things, it can be fun to do color-themed shoots if you have brightly colored paper backdrops though.
I love doing portraits in an urban setting. There is plenty to work off of in a city, plus I’m a huge fan of street style fashion. I also love the range of emotion you can get from your model in this type of shoot.
Some location ideas include old gas stations, museums, libraries (our libraries in Arizona have strangely unique architecture), a run-down pawn shop, a small street lined with quaint shops, or a back alley (obviously be safe, don’t go walking down sketchy alleys, but a lot of normal places actually have cool photo spots if you just go around to the back entrance). Be creative! Small towns with old or run-down buildings are actually goldmines for retro, vintage, or edgy shots.
Urban shots are also a great opportunity to experiment with direct sunlight to create more of a gritty or intense feel. You can work with shadows coming off of buildings, fences, or stairs to cast interesting patterns on your model. There are a lot of opportunities to work with new styles, angles, poses, or lighting so it’s really just a great learning opportunity! I’m excited to work on my street photography during my upcoming trip to New York.
If you’re ready to move out of a controlled light location, start experimenting outside. The opportunities are endless! If I shoot outdoors, I usually find a cool spot and make the most out of a small radius. You can shoot out in the desert, the woods, the beach, or even on a small street of shops. Remember to be creative, there’s a lot to work with if you look hard enough. Utilize foliage as well. Finding big palms or a small patch of flowers can give you unique opportunities to shoot through branches. It can seriously look like you’re somewhere else just by shooting portraits through big palms. Maybe you could even challenge yourself to stay on one block, only shoot in one coffee shop or in one meadow. You’d be surprised at how creative you can get when you limit your resources.
Window light is a great place to start for beginners. In fact, check out my recent tutorial on how to shoot portraits using natural window light. There are a few different styles and looks that you can get with window light. You can either try harsh lighting as a stylistic technique, or shoot next to a window with softer diffused light.
This is great for a rainy day where you don’t want to shoot outside. The light coming through your windows will be bright and buttery soft, which provides great opportunity to experiment with some moody shots.
On the other hand, you can shoot midday and play with shadows coming through curtains or blinds. This can provide a more intense and stylized look and provide sharp contrasts on someone’s face.
If you’re in the photography community or simply have an Instagram account, you’ve heard of Brandon Woelfel. He’s notorious for colorful portraits in front of neon signs, using fairy lights, and editing shots with various whimsical themes. A quick browse through his feed will inspire you to try out his photographic style.
Maybe you can’t think of a neon sign to shoot at nearby or don’t have LED colored lights in your home, but don’t worry. Amazon actually has super affordable colored light bulbs (browse them here!) that can be set to an array of different colors. You can just put them into a desk lamp and shoot some amazing shots in your own room. Check out his YouTube channel for tutorials on this and how you can really take your portraits above and beyond.
If you’re shooting in low light like this, it’s best to shoot at a wide aperture (f/1.4, 1.8, 2, etc. to let in more light) and at a low ISO. If you bump up your ISO super high (like 6400!), then all your photos will have a bunch of noise (grain) in them. Take your ISO way down and don’t be worried when your photos look way too dark. The magic happens later in editing, when you can bring up those shadows and luminance, mess around with the color sliders, and create a beautiful photo in true Brandon Woelfel style.
I hope you enjoyed these simple photography ideas! I have a whole list of concepts for inspiration and will be rolling them out every once in a while. If you haven’t already, check out my YouTube channel here, as I post videos each week of me trying out these themes myself!
Browse my self-portrait photography on my Instagram @sheajordanphoto to see my latest shoots. Let’s connect if you’re also a photographer!
What are some photoshoot themes that you came up with? Leave them in the comments below.
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